Clifford Leon Smith was born 29 September 1928 in Johannesburg, South Africa to Magdalene du Preez and Henry Gesant Jacobs. As a baby he suffered from polio and did not walk until he was four years old. As a young man he was a talented sprinter, played soccer, tennis and golf. He was a member of the Red Cross and a keen scholar who was accused of being lazy when he wanted to continue his education after completing standard eight. His membership to the Red Cross would ultimately inspire him to pursue a career as a medical doctor.

Through the sacrifice and efforts of his family, Clifford Leo
n Smith began his long and arduous journey in completing a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. Overcoming adversity under an apartheid government, he completed his first year at the University of Fort Hare before being allowed to transfer to the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). During this time of enforced racial, social, and economic segregation where laws were enacted which defined a person's race, where they could live and spend their free time, how and where they could travel and work, and crucially limited by a separate inferior system of education for Blacks – Clifford Leon Smith was the first coloured doctor to graduate at Wits University from the then Transvaal province. Dr. Clifford Leon Smith would later become the first non-white Assistant District Surgeon in Johannesburg.

Dr. Smith’s professional life was dedicated to serving the health care needs of others and specialized as a Paediatrician, General Practitioner and District Surgeon. In a career spanning 48 years, he worked at the Donald Fraser Hospital in Sibasa, Limpopo; Northdale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg; various hospitals across Lesotho as the District Surgeon for the British High Commissioner; and the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto before opening his own practice in Newclare, Johannesburg.